Michael Lacasse is an amateur writer and longtime gamer looking to merge those passions together into a horrific nightmare amalgamation.
What Is Days Gone?
Days Gone was first released back in April of 2019 as a PlayStation 4 exclusive by Bend Studio. It was met with lukewarm critical reception. Despite this, it gained a devoted following, and as someone who originally passed on the title, I decided to pick up a copy to see what I missed with a new Steam release.
You are Deacon St. John, a man just surviving in a world filled with cannibalistic infected mutants called Freakers and still struggling with the death of his wife. He and his buddy Boozer are bounty hunters and drifters, killing criminals and collecting Freaker ears for camp credits over the past few years since the Freaker virus ended the world as we know it. But surviving isn’t living and things are about to change in big ways for the duo.
At first glance, Days Gone is part Red Dead Redemption, part The Walking Dead. An open-world game where you play as an outlaw with sprinting, screaming Not Zombies looking to beat you to death all while you do odd jobs for the few uninfected settlements left in gorgeous Oregon.
And gorgeous it is. Bend Studio’s version of the Pacific Northwest is breathtaking, with sprawling forests, mountain ranges, and long stretches of road and ghost towns being reclaimed by nature. Abandoned vehicles litter the scenery and give you the opportunity to scavenge. Maybe you’ll find some scraps from a long-dormant engine or a box of ammo from the back of a police cruiser.
A Zombie By Any Other Name
You’ll also come across lots and lots of Freakers. Giant Hordes of the things—sometimes hundreds strong—roam set routes and you’ll find them hanging around pretty much everywhere. Catch their attention and you’ll have a river of screaming Freaks swarming you at full sprint. On your travels you’ll discover their nests where most sleep during the day and can burn them down to unlock fast travel points.
The Freaker virus didn’t just stop with humans though. Infected wolves, bears and even ravens are some of the wildlife that want to tear Deacon St. John to pieces. Not that they needed the infection to want to kill you. Part and parcel of the open world genre, pretty much everything does from the fauna to the various wandering gangs you come across.
There’s a dynamic day/night cycle and weather system that influences how your encounters will go. Freakers are weaker during the day but come out at night to hunt unsuspecting drifters with increased toughness. This adds some strategic elements to burning out nests. Do you wait for night where they’re all in the open and you can take them out stealthily or do you deal with them during the day where they’re swarm out of the place to try and overwhelm you while they’re weaker?
A Very Slow Burn
To say it starts slow is an understatement. Your first 10-15 hours is basically just going through the grind that’s Deacon and Boozers life. Chasing down bounties, rescuing survivors from raiders you find on your journey who haven’t yet made a settlement home—you get the choice to send them where you want to for different rewards—maybe hunting animals to feed a starving camp.
It's too bad that the hunting didn’t really amount to anything more than a way to grind out trust and credits, especially with how some of the NPCs talk about their impending starvation. It's really hard to not compare it to Red Dead Redemption 2, a game only released six months earlier, that made it a way more interesting part of its gameplay.
Things really start to pick up once you reach Lost Springs and you stop just doing odd jobs and transition more into a proactive role in the story. I can’t comment too much about this section, or further, without getting into spoilers but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t enjoyed the core gameplay of shooting, riding and crafting by now, another 30 hours isn’t going to change your mind.
How's the Gameplay?
Shooting, riding and crafting is what you’re going to spend most of your time doing. The guns in the game feel good to shoot and the third-person combat is about standard for an open world game. Not being able to store weapons that you’ve picked up from enemies is a big miss. Your storage locker holds a veritable arsenal, but only if you’ve gained enough trust and spent the credits to pick them up.
As you progress the story and take out enemy camps you’ll find a huge amount of craftable consumables, from healing and buffing to explosives to different ways to distract your enemies, as well as tons of components you’ll need for them. I found that making sure you were maxed out on everything was the best way to approach things and you rarely run out of pieces to make something you need.
In combat, enemy AI isn’t particularly clever. Freakers will try to overwhelm you with numbers and people will take cover and do some simple flanking maneuvers but they aren’t too concerned with self preservation.
Seen it Before but That's Not a Bad Thing
The narrative, and characters, are just interesting enough to have kept my attention and aren't worse written than a lot of shows and movies that I'm told deserved the awards they were nominated for. Most of the named characters have their moments and are well fleshed out.
Some of the dialogue might be awkward and groan worthy—Sarah's tongue-in-cheek wedding vow stands out during a particular flashback—but it's cringe inducing in the kind of way that you can see someone saying.
Being able to interact with the characters outside of missions, like how the Grand Theft Auto series eventually started handling it, would’ve helped the narrative. It’s weird not being able to hang out with Boozer, or even really talk to him outside of missions or scripted events and kind of made the whole friendship feel a little flat.
“Days Gone Bye” is the title of the pilot episode of The Walking Dead and, in some ways, Days Gone can be seen as a reinterpretation of the series with different antagonists and set in Oregon instead of Virginia. I could easily see people like Rick Grimes and places like the Kingdom or Hilltop seamlessly find a home in this post not-zombie apocalypse. It does an immersive The Walking Dead experience better than any other studio has been able to so far and while it’s not the masterpiece that Red Dead Redemption 2 is—to be honest, very few games could ever hope to be—Days Gone is a well made and fun open world game that knows what it is and does it well enough to be a solid experience. Not every game needs to push ahead or innovate; sometimes just being good is more than good enough.
Days Gone is now available on PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows.
Platform: Windows 10.
System: AMD Ryzen 7 4800H with a 2.90 GHz processor, 16 gigs of RAM and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card.
© 2021 Mike L